Transitioning to a bed too early can turn a once great sleeper into a frequent bedside visitor. A toddler climbing out of his crib, certainly means he will climb out of his bed! Climbing out of the crib doesn’t mean you have to immediately switch to a big kid bed. Before switching, focus on setting the expectation that your child needs to stay in the crib. This way the expectation can be carried over to the bed when you switch at the right time.
Here are some strategies to keep your toddler in their crib as long as possible.
- If your crib has a higher back, try turning the crib around. Your toddler will not be able to get his or her leg up high enough to swing it over the rail.
- See if you can lower the mattress down to the floor without creating a gap in between the crib and mattress. That may give you the extra height to keep your toddler from climbing over. If there is a gap large enough for you to get a body part wedged in, don’t do this!
- If your crib doesn’t have a high back and you can’t lower the mattress further, you can put a sleep sack on your toddler so that he can’t lift his leg high enough over the rail. If you turn it around backwards, he can’t unzip it.
- Nip it by setting limits. Watch your toddler in a video monitor and when you see him trying to escape, gently but firmly remind him of the rule of staying in his crib. It might take 20 times the first night, but many toddlers learn that trying to escape isn’t worth the effort.
When should I make the switch?
There is no right or wrong time to switch to a big kid bed, but there are definitely some things to consider:
- If you’ve tried the strategies listed above to keep your toddler in his crib as long as possible and it’s just not working, you’re going to need to make the switch. You can’t expect your toddler to sleep independently if he can’t get back into his crib after he’s jumped out. You are then stuck putting him back in which can create both a night waking problem and power struggles. In this case, you’ll just need to bite the bullet and make the switch.
- If you’re transitioning your toddler to a big kid bed because you are having a new baby, you want to time the switch carefully so that the toddler doesn’t feel displaced by the newborn. Either switch your toddler to a big kid bed at least a few months in advance so that he is adjusted before the baby comes. Or, plan to keep your newborn in a bassinet for at least a few months to allow your toddler to adjust to being a sibling before you transition him to a big kid bed. Then, allow a little time to pass between making the switch and putting your newborn in the crib.
- If your toddler is young or small, he may not be able to get in and out of a regular sized bed himself. Again, in order to maintain independent sleep, he needs to be able to get into his sleep space himself. You can use a toddler bed or you can simply place a mattress on the floor.
How do I prepare for the big move?
Your goal is to create an intrinsic desire to sleep well in their new space. Try a family meeting:
- Discuss what the family rules are for bedtime such as “eyes closed, mouth quiet, stay in bed.” You can make a poster of these rules with drawings or even take pictures of your toddler acting out the rules.
- Create a haven. Let your toddler pick our new bed linens or a new stuffed animal to bring to bed with him. This is a big milestone and should be celebrated!
- Turn the whole bedroom into a safe, crib-like space. Remove anything that might be hazardous, secure furniture, and put away any distracting toys.
How can I make sure we stay on track?
Toddlers have limited self-control to stay in their beds so their grown-ups need to help them out:
- Ax curtain calls. Many toddlers don’t even realize they can get out of bed on their own until that one day they drop their stuffed animal, swing their leg over, and think “I AM FREE”! When this happens, review the rules, and if you need to, silently return your child back to bed as many times as it takes.
- Use a “tot clock” or “ok to wake” clock. A learning clock is a great tool for letting older toddlers know when it is OK to leave their bed. This type of clock turns green or has another visual cue at a specific time set by the parents. My favorite, the “OK to Wake” by Anaroo also has a nap timer which can be useful to enforce rest time in older children who don’t need a nap but benefit from some downtime.
- Put a gate in the door. It’s not meant to be punitive, but to keep your child safe from roaming the house. You can even decorate it with markers or stickers. I had a client whose little boy put soccer ball stickers on it and called it his goal!
If you need help with any of these strategies, or are just not seeing success, a little support from one of our sleep consultants can help get you one track!